Mass. can prevent wrongful convictions like mine

Bill increases transparency of incentivized witnesses

WHAT WOULD A PERSON say to get out of jail? I learned the answer the hard way. Lies told by incentivized informants put me on death row for a murder I didn’t commit.

Today, October 2, is Wrongful Conviction Day, a global movement to raise awareness about the causes and remedies of convictions of the innocent. I hope that sharing my story will inspire Massachusetts to do more to protect against false incentivized testimony, one of the leading contributors to wrongful convictions.

In 1972, at the age of 19, I was arrested for the brutal bludgeoning death of a Boston transit worker. The state’s star witnesses were Wyatt Moore and his sister Susie, who claimed that I confessed to them at their mother’s house. Despite my entire family verifying that I was home with them at the time of the crime, I was convicted and sentenced to death in 1974. My life was spared when Massachussetts abolished the death penalty the following year, but I would spend another three decades behind bars before I was exonerated.

Decades after my conviction, critical evidence about Wyatt and Susie Moore was uncovered. Both were facing criminal charges that were reduced or dismissed after they testified. In fact, Wyatt, who was being detained for a serious felony, was released the day after my trial ended. Additionally, records showed that he was incarcerated on the date he claimed I confessed to him in his mother’s home.

The Commonwealth had all of this information at my trial, but did not follow its constitutional obligation to turn it over. As a result, my attorney could not raise concerns about the reliability of the Moores to the judge and the jury. Soon after this evidence was discovered, Susie Moore admitted on her deathbed that she had lied. In 2004, I finally cleared my name and was freed.

It’s hard to describe what it was like to lose 30 years of my life. My family and I aren’t the only ones who suffered. The victims in wrongful conviction cases are denied justice, and the actual perpetrators may go on to harm others. And what message does it send to the victims of the informant’s crimes when leniency is the reward for testimony?

Massachusetts can prevent what happened to me from happening again. There has been a growing national movement to increase transparency and scrutiny of incentivized witnesses. In July, Connecticut passed a new law that will create the nation’s first statewide system to track the use of jailhouse informants and the benefits they receive. Additionally, judges must hold pre-trial hearings to screen out unreliable testimony from being admitted as evidence.

Last year, Illinois also adopted a pre-trial test before incentivized witnesses can testify. Recently, Nebraska and Texas enacted laws specifying when and what types of informant evidence must be disclosed to the defense, and requiring prosecutors to keep a central record of informant testimony and deals.

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Senate Bill 832, introduced by Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop, would implement similar safeguards in Massachusetts. Shining a light on who these incentivized witnesses are and what they expect for their cooperation is critical to prevent wrongful convictions like mine. Lawmakers can protect the innocent and crime victims by passing this legislation.

Laurance Adams was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1974, based largely on the testimony of jailhouse informants, and spent 30 years in prison before being exonerated. He lives in Plymouth County.